ATRA: Milwaukee Bar Assoc. Exploits High Court Decision; Healthcare at Risk

February 22, 2006

The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) recently urged Wisconsin legislators and the governor to restore limits on noneconomic damages for medical liability lawsuits in light of the Milwaukee Bar Association’s promotion of a seminar designed to teach plaintiffs’ lawyers on how to get “The Million Dollar Verdict.”

The local bar association was scheduled to hold a seminar on how to reap the benefits of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision last year that struck down limits on noneconomic damages in medical liability cases.

“The local plaintiff’s bar is exploiting a bad decision by the state’s high court that could result in a healthcare crisis for Wisconsin,” said ATRA President Sherman Joyce. “Wisconsin had reasonable limits on noneconomic damages prior to this decision, and now the plaintiffs’ lawyers know that the sky is the limit. We urge the legislature and governor to support legislation that would restore limits on noneconomic damages that has kept the state one of the most stable in the nation when it comes to access to healthcare.”

The cost of litigation has reportedly resulted in higher and often unaffordable medical liability premiums, which has forced doctors to retire early, cease performing high-risk procedures or move to more stable states. This has resulted in an access to healthcare crisis in 20 states, according to the American Medical Association, although Texas was this year removed from that list due to its medical liability law enacted in 2003.

Some states, including Texas and Mississippi, that have recently enacted reforms that include limits on noneconomic damages are reportedly already beginning to see doctors return to their states as a result of more stable and reduced premiums.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court received a “Dishonorable Mention” in the fourth annual “Judicial Hellholes®” report for several decisions, including the medical liability decision, that could reportedly put the state at risk of becoming home to Judicial Hellholes — a few, but powerful, state courts that have a disproportionately harmful impact on civil litigation. That report was released in December.

Judicial Hellholes are jurisdictions in which judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in unfair and unbalanced ways, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits. Plaintiffs’ lawyers file lawsuits in Judicial Hellholes because they know they will receive a favorable outcome—an excessive verdict or settlement, a favorable precedent, or both.

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